Aging: An Islamic Perspective
Islamic texts presents old age as one of the several stages of human development, in which some of the divinely endowed powers, strengths, abilities, independence, and physical beauty are withdrawn as a test (of responses) and a compelling opportunity to achieve spiritual excellence by submitting oneself to the Divine (Qur’an, 30:54, 36:68, 40:67, 19:04, 28:23, 11:72, 12:78, 22:05, 98:1–6; Aslam 2018, pp. 71–91). In Islamic literatures, several terms, such as shaykh, musinn, haram, kabir, mua’mmir, ardhal-al-umar, and ajuz, refer to the old-age or old people. Shykh refers to a person who has physical signs of the old age and mussin refers to the one who is identified with observable functional decline in physical and rational capabilities. Kabir and mua’mmir are loose terms which refer to any age from onset of the old age or late adulthood onwards. The synonymous terms, haram and ardhal-al-umar, refer to the decrepit or extreme old age which is triggered by serious disruptions in mental and cognitive functions and realized through lack of comprehension, loss of memory, and physical inability to carry out daily needs and religious obligations. It has also been observed that the shaykh refers to a man of 50 years and above (upto 80), musinn refers to 60 and above, mua’mmir refers to 40 and above. Haram and ardhal-al-umar have been interpreted differently, by interpreters of the Qur’an, as above 75, above 90, above 95, and above 100 years. Ajuz refers to old woman (Bensaid and Grine 2014, p. 143; Aslam 2018, p. 87).
Disability, Interdependence, and Consciousness
Islamic discourses do not consider physical ability or functional status as evaluative criteria for successful old age. The Qur’an states that weakness and powerlessness are the original and inseparable conditions of the human being, since the God creates him/her from an insignificant liquid (Qur’an, 77:20, 80:19) and weakness (Qur’an, 30:54), with an anxious mind (Qur’an, 70:19), cognitive and intellectual limitations, little knowledge, and restricted predictive capabilities (Qur’an, 17:85, 31:34); pushes him through the weakness to the temporary strength; and brings him back to the feeble and decrepit old age (Qur’an, 30:54, 40:67, 22:5, 16:70; Tirmidhi 1998, h. 2150). The success of old age is predicated on the conscious acknowledgement of the fact that all powers come from the God as temporary blessings and that God is the only power who can take the complaints about the hardships from His creations. (Qur’an, 12:86; 95:1–6). Qur’an narrates the stories of Prophets such as Zachariah and wife (Qur’an, 19:1–4) and Jacob (Qur’an, 12:82–98), who positively and successfully lived with hope and patience in their old age. Some verses also warn the believer about the extreme old age in which individual loses his/her cognitive capabilities, and advise him/her to keep doing protective prayers against it (Qur’an, 16:70; Bukhari 1987, h. 6390). Some commentators infer from the Qur’anic verses that a conscious believer with righteous actions must be immune to the decrepit old age (Qur’an, 95:1–6; Shanqiti 1995, 2:410).
Rights, Cares, and Legislations
Both the Qur’anic verses and the Hadith (traditions of prophet Muhammed) literatures not only talk about the honor and special regard that should be accorded to the older people but also legislate for the aged care in sharia at individual and societal levels, in order to sustain an effective symbiotic relationship between the community of the older persons and society while preventing any thoughts or practices of passivity, isolation, or social disengagement (Bensaid and Grine 2014, p. 149). Hadith literatures suggest that living upto the old age is a blessing since it is a spiritual opportunity for both the older persons and the carers, to exercise more righteous choices. According to shari’a, taking care of one’s parents is an obligatory duty of an individual (Qur’an, 17:23–25; Razi 1938, pp. 20–190) and adults are not permitted to undertake economic migration or go on holy defensive war without having the consent of the aged parents (Bukhari 1987, h. 1094). Caring the older persons from relatives, neighbors, and community as a whole has also been legislated as a societal obligation (Qur’an, 4:36). Islam gives ethical and spiritual directives urging the younger ones to give preferences to the older persons in varied spaces of communications and social interactions solely by the virtue of their age (Qur’an, 17:23–25; Asqalani 1986, h. 5877). Dignity, honor, kindness, respect, appreciation, ease, support, solidarity, and service are legislatively guaranteed as rights of older persons (Tirmidhi 1998; Razi 1938, 20:190; 3:386; Qattan 1997, 4:371). Sharia admits several concessions and exemptions for the older persons in religious practices and social transactions, such as concessionary dry ablution (tayammum) (Ibn-Rushd 1975, 1:66), concession for combining of prayer timings (Nawawi 1996, 1:40), directive to shorten congregational prayers for the old and disabled people’s convenience (Asqalani 1986, h. 671), option to appoint a younger person to perform hajj pilgrimage on the older person’s behalf (Ibn-Qudamah 1985, 3:179), and exemption from annual fasting for the old age illness (Qur’an, 2:184).
The Qur’an, the Hadith, their commentaries, and Islamic legal writings do take the old age and its stages into account, engage with debates of disability and interdependence, prioritize the consciousness over the physical changes, and make legislations for the care and rights of older people. However, more specific studies on Islamic aging within contemporary realities and discourses are still desired for.
- Aslam KM (2018) Aging, disability and interdependence: a study from Islamic perspective. Islamic Insight 1 (1): 71–91. http://islamicinsight.in/index.php/ISLAMICINSIGHT/article/view/21. Accessed 26 Feb 2019
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